The Press Complaints Commission has been condemned for "doing a hopeless job" by former Daily Mirror readers' editor David Seymour, who has urged it to toughen up or risk opening the door to legal curbs on the press.
But PCC chairman Sir Christopher Meyer was this week mounting a public defence of the commission's methods and the power of "naming and shaming" editors.
Seymour was made redundant in January after more than 20 years at the Mirror. He was group political editor and was also readers'
editor, in charge of corrections, for his last five years at the paper.
He told Press Gazette: "While I worked at the Mirror, I could not say what I really felt about the PCC. The party line for all newspapers is that the PCC is doing a fine job… Now I can say what I really think, and that is that the PCC is doing a hopeless job. It is handing down verdicts which fail to even meet the basic dictates of common sense, let alone justice."
Seymour said he had been particularly concerned about a PCC decision in November when it rejected a complaint made about the Daily Express front-page headline: "Bombers are all spongeing asylum seekers".
The headline wrongly suggested that the 7 July London bombers were asylum seekers, but the complaint was rejected.
Seymour said: "If that sort of judgement was handed down by a doctors' professional body, or solicitors', we would all be sitting around our office laughing about it and writing leaders. The PCC should give the sort of judgments that we expect other organisations to give — such as the Advertising Standards Agency or Ofcom."
Seymour said he also believed that every newspaper should be forced to carry a corrections and clarifications column of the sort pioneered by The Guardian, then adopted by the Daily Mirror.
And he added that if the PCC did not change it would be playing into the hands of "certain politicians who are itching to do something about the press".
Speaking at the launch of the PCC's annual report on Thursday at the Foreign Press Association, Meyer was due to assert that the commission had "changed the culture of the British press over the last 15 years".
The annual report reveals that the PCC has apparently made progress in making newspapers give more prominence to its adjudications. More than three-quarters of corrections and apologies are now said to appear on either the same page or further forward than the article under complaint.
Meyer was expected to say: "I feel even more strongly than when I started at the PCC that the power of naming and shaming [editors] is a more potent sanction than the ability to impose a few thousand pounds worth of fines — if ever a proportionate tariff could be established… Far better to hit sinning editors where it hurts most: in their self-esteem and professional reputation by obliging them to publish prominently and unedited the full text of the censure."
Meyer was also planned to suggest that self-regulation, as applied to the press, should be extended to online publishers: "What chance is there of successfully applying a set of statutory rules to information transmitted online — where anyone can be a publisher and there is no spectrum scarcity? None. The only effective way of ensuring that online journalistic information is subject to certain standards is for those standards to be self-imposed."